A community radio station in Coupeville reached a hallmark this week. Gwen Sam’s “Whidbey Chat” marked the first live broadcast from the radio station’s studio located on the Coupeville Wharf.
Sam spent her first broadcast interviewing Rowena Williamson from the Whidbey Writers Group. Sam will feature other local writers in coming weeks. In addition she hopes to interview people who are experts in such areas as whale sightings and the health of Penn Cove, as well as talking with various characters who add flavor to life on Whidbey.
“It’s general interest and growing from there,” Sam said. Her Chat program airs Mondays from 11 a.m. to noon.
Sam’s broadcast is the first of several additions for KWPA (96.9) that could culminate in the station covering most of Whidbey Island.
KWPA board member and Local Grown coffee shop owner William Bell said there are two other people who may start broadcasting live shows once they’re trained in radio skills. One would broadcast community news while the other would focus on the life of dogs on the island.
The radio station started broadcasting about a year ago with a limited range of five to seven miles, which basically covers Coupeville and the surrounding area. Programming consisted primarily of recordings from local concerts and events. The Whidbey Island Center for the Arts originally obtained the radio station license to broadcast its events. However, the radio station broke away from the respected arts organization late last year.
The weak signal posed a problem with Monday’s broadcast. Sam said a Canadian radio station can drown out KWPA’s signal. Fortunately, people listening from the station’s Web site, kwparadio.wordpress.com/, heard Sam’s show.
The nonprofit organization now has an opportunity to obtain a permit that would allow its station to broadcast at a greater signal strength.
“We decided this would be a perfect opportunity to expand our reach and do what we always wanted to do,” said Harry Anderson, KWPA board member. He said the additional power will allow KWPA to reach from North Whidbey Island near Deception Pass all the way south to Clinton. Skagit Valley College also had considered applying for the permit, but decided it would have been too costly, said Alan Muia, Dean of Students for SVC.
The station is applying for a permit through the Federal Communications Commission. Residents can view the permit application in the law office of Arndt and Walker, located at 107 S. Main St., Coupeville.
Currently KWPA is vying with two religious organizations for the permit and Anderson said a decision could be made between 90 days and the end of the year.
If the station does receive the new license, managers would have to raise money to pay for additional equipment to accommodate the stronger signal. Other costs will rise as well.
“We will clearly need a bigger studio space than the one we have at the Coupeville Wharf,” Anderson said. He wouldn’t hazard a guess on the amount of money volunteers need to raise. It will take two to three years before the station could broadcast using the stronger signal.
In addition, a larger antenna, at least 100 feet tall, would have to be built in a rural area on the island. Anderson hopes the family allowing the current antenna on their property, the Muzzalls, will be open to the larger antenna.
The property lies within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and is near an airfield. Anderson said the antenna shouldn’t disrupt the historic landscape of the reserve and board members are willing to work with reserve officials. As for the airport, early calls with the Federal Aviation Administration indicate the antenna shouldn’t be an issue, supporters say.
KWPA will continue broadcasting from the Coupeville Wharf until the fundraising and construction of the larger system is complete. Once that is done, than KWPA will surrender its original permit back to the FCC, Anderson said.